|Two Oceans Preview
by Riel Hauman, author of Century of the Marathon: 1896-1996
Vladimir Kotov, the Belarussian runner who shattered the "up" record in the Comrades Marathon last year with a stunning display of speed over the last 10KM, has his sights set firmly on a repeat victory this year in the "down" run - but first he has some unfinished business in South Africa's other big ultra, the Old Mutual Two Oceans in Cape Town.
Kotov has moved to South Africa with his family, and will be living in Cape Town for two years, during which time he wants to focus on South African ultras.
In last year's Two Oceans, Kotov, unfamiliar with the route and without adequate information on how the race was developing, charged through the field in the second half, but missed catching race leader Joshua Peterson by 8 seconds. In the 2001 race on 14 April, Kotov wants to make amends, and with Peterson also returning, a thrilling contest is in the offing.
Kotov ran a local half-marathon last week and finished second, but was controversially disqualified after the runner who was third complained that the Comrades champion had received a drink from a helper during the race. Kotov is currently receiving treatment for a slight calf niggle.
Apart from Kotov, perennial Comrades third-place finisher Alexei Volgin will also be in the field to challenge South Africa's best runners. These include Charl Mattheus, Zithulele Sinqe, Nick Bester, Andrew Kelehe, Walter Nkosi, and 1998 winner Fusi Nhlapo.
Nhlapo finished sixth last year, and will join all the other 2000 gold medalists in the quest for a win, or at least a top ten position again: Isaac Tshabalala (winner in 1999), Lucky Bhembe, Mphanyane Flathela, Namibia's Luketz Swartbooi, Toma Tsotetsi, Morgen Sithole, and Nixon Nkodima.
There will also be a strong international presence in the women's race, where last year's runner-up (and Comrades winner) Maria Bak will face US star Deb Bollig, Volgin's wife Natalia Volgina, Elena Plastinina, and Yelena Vinitskaya. Sarah Mahlangu will defend her title.
Mattheus and Bollig, who were married a few weeks ago, are aiming for the husband-and-wife trophy as well as the record, held by Kazimierz and Maria Bak.
Total entries for the 56KM ultra and the half-marathon are 12,627. When South Africa was hit by a postal strike in the two weeks before entries closed, runners were given the opportunity to enter online for the first time. Eventually, 30 percent of the entries were sent by this method.
In the ultra, 27 percent of the entrants will run it for the first time. There will be 312 runners from outside South Africa.
The winning purse for both men and women has been increased by R25,000 to R100,000. A variety of tempting incentives are also in place, such as R25,000 for breaking the course record, while presenting sponsor Nike is offering R35,000, R20,000 and R15,000 respectively to the first three athletes if they wear Nike shoes, as well as an additional R25,000 if a Nike-shod runner breaks the course record.
Car manufacturer Subaru SA is offering two unique Subaru Impreza GX automobiles, valued at R169,950 each, for the first man and woman who break the course record. The records are Thompson Magawana's 3:03:44 (1988) and Frith van der Merwe's 3:30:36 (1989).
There is also an incentive for ordinary runners: each runner finishing in Nike footwear will have his or her entry fee refunded in the form of a Nike product hamper (socks, shorts, water bottle, etc.). Last year 4,048 runners (out of a total of 9,206 finishers) wore shoes with the swoosh.
Prize money for the first ten athletes (men and women receive equal amounts) are:
Total prize money, including age category and team prizes, is R600,000.
Due to the indefinite closure of the traditional route over the scenic Chapman's Peak Drive, the race will again be held over the alternate course followed last year. The cut-off time will remain at the special millennium limit of 7 hours.